This is not so much a response to ChrisG's email ("Easy Confession Question) as it is to recap a general, detailed info sheet on the whats and hows of confession. I remember doing something like this previously, but cannot find it in the search files anymore, so I thought I'd start a new thread with this new heading to make it easier to find in the future.
Examination of Conscience
Prior to entering the confessional, you should make what's known as an examination of conscience. Some missals may include a section on confession and a general examination of conscience to help you in this. If you have time -- say, the night before -- you might consider searching for one online.
There is a decent one here: http://www.fisheaters.com/penance.html#examination
Stepping into the confessional
Depending on what church you go to for confession, the confessional (aka, "the box" or "reconciliation room") may be set up in any number of ways. There should be an option of "anonymous confession," or confession with a "grille" of sorts between you and the priest so that you can hear each other but not see each other. Likewise, there may be an option for face-to-face confession where, normally, you sit in a chair facing the priest. Confession in the former case should always provide you with a kneeler or prayer stool.
1. Assuming you go for anonymous confession, kneel on the prayer stool.
The priest normally will say nothing and wait for you to begin.
2. You can start by making the sign of the cross and actually saying out loud "In the name of the Father, etc.
" or, just make the sign of the cross and start out with, "Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been ___ days/weeks/months/years since my last confession.
3. The priest may
immediately say something about "having trust in God" etc. and may also recite some short passage from Scripture. If he does this, he may end with, "... Go on..." (or something similar). Otherwise, the priest may simply say nothing and just wait for you.
4. At this point, you make your confession which could go something literally like this: "Father, I accuse myself of 2 acts of self-impurity. I lied on two occasions. I have ignored my parents lately. I sinned against the 9th commandment.
5. If that's all you have (or that's all you can remember), end with words similar to, "For these and all the sins of my past life, I ask for your blessing and for God's mercy."
The Priest Responds
After you have made your confession, the priest may do any number of things. He may go straight to the "Advice and Penance" (below). Given the confession stated above, a brief talk may ensue, like this:
Are you married?
Are you unable to perform the marriage act?
Well... my wife and I got into an argument...
I see. So would you also like to confess to getting angry?
Yes, father. I was angry with my wife on two occasions
Did you act upon this anger in any other ways? Did you strike your wife?
What is the 9th commandment?
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife"
In what way did you break this commandment?
There is a woman I work with who dressed very immodestly one day, and it caused me to have feelings of lust.
Did you act on these feelings?
Advice and Penance
After questions of clarification, if any, as described above, the priest may give some advice, followed up by some penance. It may go something like this:
Very well. Remember to do your morning and night prayers and keep a strong devotion to Our Lady and the rosary, which should help in these issues of impurity. Keep in mind that self-impurity is a very grave offense against our Lord, etc. etc. If you have some good spiritual reading at home, this may also help.
For your penance, I'd like you to ______________, and make a good act of contrition.
It is not absolutely necessary that you complete your penance prior to receiving communion that day. In some cases, you will not be able to do it anyway (for example, you're given a penance to recite the Litany of the Sacred Heart for 3 consecutive days). In any case, if you're given a penance of the old, "Say 10 Hail Marys," you should endeavor to do your penance as soon as possible.
Immediately say an Act of Contrition. Many(most?) confessionals may have a generic act of contrition printed and posted nearby. You should learn one by heart, but don't feel bad about having to read it off of a cheat sheet. A typical Act of Contrition goes:
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all, because I have offended Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I fully resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
You may make up and use your own Act of Contrition if you have trouble with the traditional one, using similar words to express the same thing -- sorrow for sin, resolving to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
The priest may
give the absolution while
you are saying your act of contrition. This is especially true if you go to confession at a Traditional Latin Mass (such as a Latin Mass community). Otherwise, the priest may wait until you've finished to give the absolution. He will usually end with a blessing or something along the lines of, "Go in peace" or "Go and sin no more" ...
Make the sign of the cross on yourself, thank the priest, and leave the confessional.
It is also a nice gesture to tell the priest, before you leave the box, how many people are still in line behind you.
Hope this helps anyone who may have questions on this Sacrament. Many RCIA programs do not describe Confession in any detail to help new folks to the Church.